'Losing face among the natives': Something about tattooing and tabooing in Herman Melville's Typee
AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractHerman Melville’s first novel Typee, published in 1846, is an intriguing South Sea adventure based on the author’s own experiences and narrated by ‘Tommo’, who, with his companion Toby, jumps ship and wanders into the valley of Typee, home to a tribe of suspected cannibals. This essay concentrates on a chapter in which Tommo describes his encounter with a Typeean tattooist before discussing ‘the mysterious “Taboo”’. Tommo becomes fearful that he will be ‘disfigured in such a manner as never more to have the face to return’ to civilisation. The threat of non-consensual body modification confronts narrator and reader with unsettling issues of personal and cultural identity in crisis. The analysis draws on a range of material from the fields of anthropology, psychology, literary criticism, sociology and linguistics.
CitationAtkin, G. (2017). Losing face among the natives: Something about tattooing and tabooing in Herman Melville's Typee. In Rees, E. (ed.), Talking Bodies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Embodiment, Gender and Identity. Palgrave MacMillan.
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